The Rio Grande River is Laredo’s lifeline and the Laredo Water Museum was designed to pay tribute to exactly that.

The museum opened in 2017 after Laredo City Council members recognized a need to educate students and locals of the importance of the Rio Grande River to the city. For years, local schools as well as Texas A&M International University took students on tours of the Jefferson Water Treatment Plant but the experience was far from memorable thanks to its cramped space and limited access. “The old administration building wasn’t even suitable for offices, not to mention tours,” Councilwoman Cindy Liendo said. Fortunately, the City Council saw that and voted to build a water treatment museum that would educate students as well as house the plant’s administrative offices.

“The idea of the water museum came about so that children can understand the importance of the Rio Grande… to the citizens of Laredo and so they could understand their relationship with the river,” Councilman Robert Basilli said after the $4.6 million project was completed and opened to the public.

Upon its completion in 2017, the Laredo Water Museum became one of only three water museums in the entire State of Texas. The museum features over 20 exhibits and starts visitors in the Gulf of Mexico before taking them on a journey throughout the history of the Rio Grande. That journey spans the river from Colorado to New Mexico and south while educating museum-goers on the region’s primary water source and the importance of protecting it.

The museum is unique in how it personalizes the water system to visitors with interactive exhibits that let students race to see who can pump five gallons of water the fastest or learn more about the ecology—the plants and animals—that live around the river. Patrons also learn how water flows from the river to their taps at home and get to walk through a giant pipe that shows the stages the river goes through during treatment and cleaning prior to city-wide distribution.

Visitors learn how water is channeled to various outlets in the city from faucets and showers to bathroom toilets and beyond to storm drains, sewer drains, and back to the Gulf of Mexico. They even learn how long it takes items like a Styrofoam cup or a newspaper to decompose in a landfill, reiterating the importance of protecting Laredo’s lifeline—the massive Rio Grande River.